Thursday, July 14, 2011

Schismatic: The X-Men's Newest Event Begins

Despite the large amount of marketing, exclusive preview pages, numerous interviews and webcomic anticipatory parodies, somehow this still snuck up on me. It's probably my inability to believe we're already deep into July that led to my surprise when I saw this on the shelf.

Regardless, the next big X-event has begun. It's only five issues, which is nice and contained for an X-event, and from what I can tell there aren't specific tie-ins with Schism banners on their covers and all corresponding hullabaloo. Still, doubtless the other X books will feel the impact of Schism events, whether simultaneously or after the fact.

Let's take a look at the premiere issue of what promises to be an exciting chapter in the tumultuous lives of the Uncanny X-Men.

First off, the issue clocks in at 33 pages, which is noticeably longer than the average monthly comic. True, the price reflects the extra pages, but I've been suckered into paying $4.99 for comics with remarkably less significance that look this pretty and clearly required a lot of effort and forethought. While there isn't a lot of action that takes place (and believe me, I eagerly await X-Men vs. X-Men showdowns by the end, considering that is--er, I mean was, one of the most common trains of thought and fantasies I would explore while falling asleep. You know, picking the teams, leaders, match-ups, etc. By the way, I totally get Storm on my side.) for a fan there's something purely enjoyable about reading extra pages featuring your favorite characters.

The first issue reveals Jason Aaron's grasp on the X-Men, most especially the character of Wolverine whom he has considerable experience writing for. Right off the bat he confronts the oft-fan-discussed overuse of Wolverine in the Marvel U, showing Logan's exhaustion from his multiple team duties. Within a few panels we see his trademark surliness, his acceptance of his role in life, and his reticence to train more young mutants (Hope and her Five Lights) and thus usher them into a similar existence.

His communication with Cyclops also feels spot-on. Longtime allies and comrades, they have an almost shorthand way of conversing that seems entirely natural. They gripe, joke, take care of business, and reveal their inner workings to each other without hesitation. Scott's heartfelt appreciation of Logan's presence and help, as well as his ability to make commands at the same time, is perfectly in character. And Logan's line "When there's somebody around worth following, I follow." is particularly poignant when one has an idea of their upcoming, inevitable split. Not only does it put Cyclops, in Wolverine's judgment, on an equal footing with Captain America, but it begs the question What will Cyclops do to so completely reverse that opinion? It's a very clever bit of foreshadowing mixed with lovely characterization.

Again, despite some interesting and well paced plot developments, the issue feels primarily concerned with set-up as opposed to any exciting action. Not that I'm necessarily complaining, but still, a little more bang for my buck would be nice. Wolverine and Cyclops go to an international arms conference. Cyclops gives a stern, articulate speech about how awful Sentinels are, and asks for the world to destroy all Sentinel technology. One (middle eastern-looking, it should be noted) foreign diplomat/leader stands up to spew some anti-mutant nastiness, then good ol' Quentin Quire shows up, does his telepathic invasion/causing a riot shtick, and makes a threatening broadcast to the world.

And just like that, every nation on Earth suddenly materializes their very own sentinels. I mean, really? We hadn't seen these things since Brubaker's big move-to-San-Francisco X-Men when they were part of a museum exhibition. Now, the very day Cyclops goes to make a speech about them, they pop up in ever major city? Because one, albeit crazy insane and psychotic, mutant makes some threats? Frikkin' Magneto never caused that kind of reaction.

Anyway, the big guys on the X-Men (Cyke, Emma, Mags, and Namor) get to debating on how to react to these developments. Storm shows up in a nice little frame to urge caution, apparently sensing what we, the readers, can also sense; some aggressive undertones to Cyclop's words. Naturally there's a difference between standing tough against adversity and proactively attacking, and it's unclear which one he will choose.

To further heighten this more militaristic aspect of Cyclops, we are given a juxtaposition concerning Idie, one of the Five Lights, and the single youngest and most innocent mutant on Utopia. While the leaders deliberate, Wolverine gets a box from Kitty (someone well versed in the mentorship abilities, compassion, and guidance Wolverine is capable of...especially to young teenage girls) and goes to see Idie. He gives her the box, revealing a doll, and sits with her eating ice cream, encouraging her to act her age, to have a normal childhood.
Conversely, when the news breaks about the world mobilizing their Sentinels, Wolverine says "Go back to your ice cream, Idie" but Scott tells her she can stay. Scott takes the opportunity to hammer home the lesson that the world hates and fears them, that they can never forget it, never be off their guard, and never expect anything less. Wolverine may agree, but he clearly doesn't believe in teaching the next generation this particular worldview so fully.

Again, Aaron gives us a relatively subtle comparison between the two main characters of the story, and it is of interest that Wolverine is the one who comes off as more sympathetic, human and reasonable. Knowing he's going to be the one who plays the role of the rebel versus Scott's established order, one can only assume most people will be on his side, despite the editor's promise that the impending philosophical conflict is not one-sided or easy to judge at all.

Now for some gripes: Who are the Kilgores? Have we ever met them? The sub-plot setting up the villainy of the event is pretty interesting, with Marvel doing their own kind of Damian Wayne character with Kade Kiglore--a brilliant, conscienceless child who can outmaneuver and lead adults. Kade kills his own father, reveals that he's the one who easily snuck onto Utopia and broke out Quentin Quire, anticipating his actions, and steps into the role of the new Black King of the Hellfire Club. I like Hellfire Club as the mastermind villains, but between DaCosta's tenure as Black King, Fraction's Sebastian Shaw plot line with Emma Frost, and the Hellfire Cult I can't remember where the group stands, or if I should know Kilgore.

Also, while not much of an art expert or even that particular about what I like, I find the art very enjoyable and effective. My one problem? Hope. She looks like herself at the beginning, but in the final pages? She becomes some weirdly orange, girly, midriff-baring character that is practically unrecognizable.

All in all, though light on the action, Aaron writes a dense, skillful first issue here. He sets up a fraught, intriguing global situation with multiple threats to our favorite band of heroes, and begins planting the seeds for internal conflict more deftly than expected. I am very excited to see how it develops.

A glimpse at what's to come:

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